When good browsers go bad -- and they all do

Better browsers. Better standards. Better tools. So why are Web pages still breaking?

Getting developers on board has always been a challenge. When Cascading Style Sheets were largely ignored by most developers in 2001, developer apathy almost killed the effort. Zeldman and his peers at the Web Standards Project evangelized to the broader community, converting high-profile developers at some of the largest and most successful Web sites to the new standards religion. "Today, as a result of that grass-roots advocacy, all browsers support standards, and most clued-in Web designers use standards as a matter of course," he says.

But many still aren't clued in, and education is now the Web Standards Project's biggest focus, says Featherstone.

Zeldman says developers who aren't following standards today fall into three groups. "Some are unwilling, some don't know any better, and some are willing and know better but are prevented from implementing best practices because of wrong-headed directives by out-of-touch marketing departments -- and sometimes, even IT departments."

Koch thinks that too much of the Web development community today consists of amateurs. "There are a lot of Web developers who haven't the faintest idea of what they're doing," he says. But he expects that to change as standards take hold. "Over the next few years, the people who aren't professionals will be out of a job."

But Le Hegaret thinks amateur designers are part of the fabric of the Web. He doesn't think they need to understand the details of the specifications to publish on the Web. "People shouldn't have to know CSS to produce nice Web pages. They should just have their tools produce CSS for them," he says.

Corporate holdouts

The last to get standards religion may be internal-facing corporate Web sites, many of which were built specifically to work with Internet Explorer. "You find more proprietary approaches in the corporate environment because they control which browser they're using," says Le Hegaret. For example, ActiveX controls, which work only on Windows and are supported only in Internet Explorer, are more common on internal-facing Web sites.

Because IT can control which browser is used, organizations can protect themselves in the short term from the move to a standards-based Web. However, as market share for earlier versions of Internet Explorer drops over time, more and more Web developers will stop building customized sets of style sheets for Internet Explorer. It's simply too expensive to keep supporting a one-off case.

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